For seven seasons, Carson Palmer was the face of the Cincinnati Bengals, leading them to two playoff appearances and earning two Pro Bowl trips before the parties endured an ugly split last year.
Returning to Paul Brown Stadium for the first time since he was traded to Oakland, Palmer looks to help the Raiders avoid a fourth straight loss and keep the Bengals from a third consecutive victory Sunday.
A Heisman Trophy winner at Southern California, Palmer was the first overall pick by Cincinnati in 2003. He led the Bengals to AFC North titles in 2005 and 2009, but after a 4-12 season in 2010, Palmer wanted out. Ownership refused to trade him, so Palmer held out and stood away from the team before he was finally dealt to Oakland in the middle of last season for a 2012 first-round pick and 2013 conditional selection.
Palmer has naturally tried to downplay his return, especially since the Raiders (3-7) are looking to avoid their first four-game skid since Oct. 26-Nov. 16, 2008.
"It's a big game," said Palmer, who has thrown six interceptions in the last three contests. "But it's obviously a much bigger game for our team. We have to get a win. We're going to fight, we're going to grind this week. We have a lot of room for improvement, a lot of areas we need to improve on."
The Bengals (5-5), meanwhile, are trying to avoid the topic entirely.
"Just like any other player who was here," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Now he's not here, so our job is to beat the Oakland Raiders and Carson Palmer on Sunday. He no longer plays here, so I think we no longer need to spend any time speaking about it."
With plenty of tickets available for this contest, it also appears Cincinnati fans aren't too interested in Palmer's return. However, they should be eager to see a Bengals club that has followed a four-game slide by outscoring the New York Giants and Kansas City 59-19 in consecutive wins.
"We're playing the way we should've been playing all year," linebacker Thomas Howard said. "I'm really excited about how we're playing on defense. Our offense is putting points on the board. This is Bengal football as you've been seeing the last two weeks, and I expect more of it."
Andy Dalton, who replaced Palmer and led the Bengals to the playoffs while throwing for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns as a rookie in 2011, has thrown six TDs and no picks in the last two games. He's already thrown 20 TDs this season, and his 92.7 passer rating ranks 11th in the league.
Fellow second-year star A.J. Green has caught a touchdown pass in nine straight games. His 64 receptions are one shy of last season's total, and his 10 TDs are three more than he recorded in 2011.
Teammate BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a season-high 101 yards and a score in last Sunday's 28-6 win at Kansas City.
Cincinnati could be in for another big day against a Raiders team that ranks last in the NFL allowing 32.2 points per game and has been outscored 135-69 over the last three contests.
The Bengals stood firm against struggling offenses in the Giants and Chiefs, and they have some renewed confidence after giving up 89 points in the previous three games. Though the organization has downplayed Palmer's return, it's likely the Cincinnati defense is excited for the chance to add to the Raiders' recent struggles.
"We're playing against a good team, from a good division," Palmer told the Raiders' official website. "We need to go in there and find a way to get a win.
"I think consistency has been our biggest Achilles' heel. The teams that win consistently in this league play consistently well four quarters of the game. That's something we haven't done."
Palmer, who threw two TDs and two INTs in last Sunday's 38-17 loss to New Orleans, is third in the NFL with 3,035 yards but has thrown 11 interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.
One of the few recent bright spots is fullback Marcel Reece, who has rushed for 151 yards on 33 carries over the last two games in place of injured backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson. Reece is second on the Raiders with 37 receptions.
It's uncertain if an ankle injury will force McFadden to miss a third straight contest.
With Palmer under center for Cincinnati, the teams split their last two meetings. Oakland won 20-17 at home in the most recent matchup in 2009.
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